By Mark O’Neill
Contributing Writer, [GAS]
An Italian judge has used a 1948 law to convict a local historian and author of the crime of “stampa clandestina”. This is basically the crime of running a newspaper without first officially registering with the local authorities. But by convicting him, the judge has also opened the door to a much bigger Pandora’s Box.
What was this newspaper that Carlo Ruta was running? His blog. The judge ruled that since his blog had a headline, that qualified it as a newspaper and since he hadn’t registered it, he was guilty of “stampa clandestina”. Simple. Guilty as charged. He was fined and told to take down his blog. Next case.
Ruta simply took down the blog and put up a new one. But now he is a convicted criminal and he has lost all his original blog material which is obviously a big deal.
Italian bloggers are understandably outraged and are also asking why prosecutors are bringing cases now. There are potentially 5 million Italian blogs out there and Ruta was the first one to be charged. Blogs were folded into the “stampa clandestina” law back in 2001. Why was Ruta now singled out after 7 years? Was it perhaps because his blog is all about links between politics and the mafia? Hmmm…
The “stampa clandestina” law was actually set up back in 1948 with good intentions. It was just after the end of the war and the new government, with the help of the Allied occupation forces, wanted to stop Fascist sympathisers from starting up their own publications to stir up trouble. So they forced all new publishers to register with the local authorities so they could control things. But obviously now 60 years later, with the internet bursting onto the scenes and the likelihood of Fascists seizing power in Italy diminishing to zero, that law is becoming increasingly unworkable and needs to be revised. Plus let’s not forget the fact that Italy is a member of the European Union and freedom of the press is enshrined in the EU.
This conviction, if allowed to stand, is a dangerous legal precedent because it suggests that all Italian blogs are illegal because they are not registered. If anyone blogs anything in Italy that someone doesn’t like, a judge can order that blog to be shut down immediately under the “stampa clandestina” law. Plus if the Italian government starts demanding that blogs be registered, will bloggers comply? I sincerely doubt it.